Brooke Harris, an eighth grade teacher at a charter school in Pontiac, Michigan, saw Trayvon Martin’s death as a moment when many of her students were politically engaged and energized. They wanted to help Martin’s parents, and so she tried to take the moment as an opportunity to teach them how to plan a fundraiser. They came up with a proposal: Every student would donate one dollar to wear a hoodie for the day.
According to the SPLC, the principal of the school signed off on the kids’ proposal, but then superintendent Jacqueline Cassell got her hands on it:
Superintendent Cassell was less enthusiastic. She refused to approve the proposal, despite having supported many other “dress down” fundraisers. Brooke’s students took the disappointment in stride, but asked to present their idea to Cassell in person. . . . Brooke asked that a few of her students be allowed to attend her meeting with Cassell. Outraged by the request, Cassell suspended Brooke for two days. The explanation given—she was being paid to teach, not to be an activist.
Those two days morphed into a two-week, unpaid suspension when Brooke briefly stopped by the afterschool literacy fair (she had previously organized) to drop off prizes (paid for with her own money) and to pick up materials for several students whose parents were unable to attend. Supporting her students was insubordination.
The final offense? Brooke asked Cassell to clarify her original transgression so she could learn from her mistake. Cassell referred her to the minutes of their first meeting. Still confused, Brooke again requested an explanation. Cassell fired her.
Trayvon Martin’s death has raised a lot of political tension in the last weeks, but it also sparked conversations about racial profiling and race-based assumptions of guilt. Harris’s students were undoubtedly exposed to some of the hateful comments in the fallout of Trayvon Martin’s killing, and so it only makes sense for them to also explore the motivations and prejudices from which those comments stemmed.